Last Updated: 2018-02-07
UFC 221 comes your way this weekend from the Land Down Under, as Perth, Australia hosts its first fight card. This is the 11th time that the promotion has been to Australia and we have a title fight to consider, as Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold battle it out for the vacant UFC Middleweight Championship. Georges St-Pierre had to forfeit the strap after being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and is out indefinitely.
This event will technically be on Sunday morning in Australia, with a 7 a.m. local start time for the prelims and around 11 a.m. local time for the main card as UFC caters to the needs of North America so that the event can be shown in prime time on pay-per-view.
Per usual, we’ll dig deeper into the main card, but we’ll hit the odds and a few notes on all of the prelims. Odds will be from 5Dimes Sportsbook and we have a traditional 12-fight card to break down.
Undefeated welterweight Daichi Abe battles it out with New Zealand native Luke Jumeau to start off the card with a fight at 170 pounds. Abe has been bet up to a -140 favorite in his quest to improve to 7-0. Abe won his UFC debut back in September with a decision win over Hyun Gyu Lim. He was the Pancrase Welterweight Champion before making the move to UFC. Jumeau lost on that same card to Shinsho Anzai to fall to 1-1 in UFC.
Jose Alberto Quinonez is a big favorite over Teruto Ishihara in the next fight. Quinonez is -220 with +180 on the take back for Ishihara. Ishihara got back on track with a win over Rolando Dy following consecutive losses to Gray Maynard and Artem Lobov, but bettors have clearly been in JAQ’s corner so far. Quinonez is 3-1 in his UFC career since his debut loss to Alejandro Perez at UFC 180. Quinonez has only fought once a year since joining UFC, so we’ll see if this earlier start to 2018 yields another fight later this year.
Ross Pearson looks to snap a four-fight losing streak in this lightweight scrap against Mizuto Hirota. Bettors seem to think that will happen, as Pearson has been pumped up to a -140 favorite. The 36-year-old Hirota is 1-1-1 over his last three fight, all of which have gone the distance. With four straight defeats, Pearson has fallen to 19-14 in his MMA career, so he really needs this one.
Ben Nguyen is even money to pull off the minor upset against Jussier Formiga. The American-born flyweight has back-to-back wins over Tim Elliott and Geane Herrera. The Elliott win came in just 49 seconds, which was a throwback to his first-round stoppage wins in 2015. Formiga picked up his first stoppage win since 2014 with a choke-out of Ulka Sasaki last September. As far as the prelim fights go, this one could be the most interesting.
Jeremy Kennedy is +160 for his featherweight fight against Alexander Volkanovski. That means that Kennedy’s perfect 11-0 record seems to be on the line. He’s 3-0 in UFC fights, with all of them going to the cards. Volkanovski is a more aggressive fighter and he’ll have the home crowd as he looks to move to 17-1 overall and 4-0 in UFC fights. The 29-year-old could be moving up the ranks if he can nail down this win and do so in impressive fashion, which is what the -185 line is suggesting. He’s giving up some serious size in this fight and striking power is his best attribute, so we’ll have to see how he gets inside.
Rob Wilkinson is the biggest dog of the evening as things currently stand. He is +280 against Israel Adesanya, who is a three-dollar favorite. Adesanya owns a perfect 11-0 record with 11 knockout wins, but this is his UFC debut. He did beat Melvin Guillard via first-round knockout last July, though Guillard’s fall from grace in the sport has been extreme. Wilkinson is coming off of his first pro loss in his first UFC fight against Siyar Bahadurzada back in September. These are two intriguing prospects worth watching.
Before we transition to the main card, the “main event” of the Fox Sports 1 coverage will feature favorite Dong Hyun Kim against Damien Brown. Kim is -155 chalk to pick up his third straight victory. He has wins over Takanori Gomi and Brendan O’Reilly in that span. Damien Brown has dropped two straight fights and may be on the downside of his career. He’s now 17-11, but he’ll get to fight in his native country and has all the motivation in the world for this one.
Saparbek Safarov (+235) vs. Tyson Pedro (-275); Total: 1.5 (100/-130)
Saparbek Safarov’s UFC debut was a thriller, but it certainly wasn’t made under optimal conditions. We’ll see if he fares better in this one against Tyson Pedro. Safarov was a late replacement for Patrick Cummins and the Dagestan fighter was knocked out in the second round by Gian Villante. It was a tough debut fight to say the least, especially after compiling an 8-0 record up to that point. It has been a long layoff for Safarov, who was supposed to fight at Fight Night 115, but his opponent popped a positive test. So, Safarov hasn’t fought since December 9. He’s used to these types of layoffs, though, as his pre-UFC career was pretty sporadic throughout Russia and Ukraine.
Tyson Pedro is 2-1 in his UFC career, with stoppage wins over Khalil Rountree Jr. and Paul Craig. His lone loss came last time out against Ilir Latifi. Pedro, an Australian native, has deep bloodlines into the sport, as his father, John, was responsible for the beginnings of MMA in Australia. He is a very gifted light heavyweight and that loss to Latifi came via decision against a very strong opponent. If such a thing exists, it was a decent loss to stomach, especially for Pedro’s first one. That fight came back on September 9, so he has more UFC experience and may be in a better rhythm that Safarov.
Pick: Saparbek Safarov
At better than 2/1 on the return, taking a shot at Safarov seems pretty reasonable in this fight. It would be a surprise to see this thing go the distance with a couple of guys that have so many stoppage victories and impressive triumphs. Villante and Latifi are a little more polished in the technical aspects of fighting, whereas this fight could be an all-out brawl. That’s why a gamble on the dog makes some sense.
Jake Matthews (+165) vs. Li Jingliang (-190); Total: 2.5 (-215/170)
Another big opportunity is there for the taking for 23-year-old Jake Matthews. Matthews already has 14 pro decisions in his career and he’ll be fighting as a welterweight for the second straight time. This time, he’ll face Li Jingliang. Matthews is coming off of a big split-decision win over Bojan Velickovic in Sydney back in November. That was his first welterweight fight since 2014. He made his UFC debut at lightweight and fought there up until his last scrap. That means we aren’t entirely sure what to expect from Matthews here, as he has a relatively quick turnaround after going 357 days between fights prior to that November 19 fight against Velickovic.
Li Jingliang brings an impressive streak into this one. He’s won four straight fights, three of them via knockout, and two of them in the first round. Jingliang actually won the Legend FC Welterweight Championship over Luke Jumeau, who is on the undercard. Jiangling seems to be picking up some more momentum with a performance of the night bonus in the win over Zak Ottow around Thanksgiving and a fight of the night bonus for his win over Frank Camacho.
Pick: Li Jingliang
Matthews has a lot of experience fighting in Australia, but has had mixed results at the UFC level there. Jingliang seems to have found a nice groove and we have some uncertainties about how Matthews will do with back-to-back fights as a welterweight. There is a reason that he seems like he has so much promise and this line is still as high as it is.
Cyril Asker (+250) vs. Tai Tuivasa (-300); Total: 1.5 (165/-205)
Cyril Asker has a bit more UFC experience than his opponent on Sunday morning in Australia, but he is still a big underdog to Tai Tuivasa. Asker is 2-2 in his UFC career with wins over Hu Yaozong and Dmitrii Smoliakov. He’s lost via first-round knockout to both Walter Harris and Jared Cannonier. Asker certainly seems to have his hands full in this fight against a heavy hitter with an unblemished record.
Tai Tuivasa is the co-host of a MMA podcast with Tyson Pedro. Will both heavy favorites hold up and be able to talk about it on the next episode? We’ll have to wait and see, but nobody has beaten Tuivasa yet. He’s won all six of his fights by first-round knockout, including his UFC debut over Rashad Coulter back on November 18. That was Tuivasa’s first fight in over a year and he showed no signs of rust. Tuivasa also has seven pro boxing fights under his belt.
Pick: Tai Tuivasa
Tai Tuivasa should get challenged here by Cyril Asker, but it seems unlikely that he gets upset in this fight. Asker has struggled with the two bigger hitters that he has faced and Tuivasa is certainly closer to Harris and Cannonier than Yaozong and Smoliakov. A money line parlay of the podcasters may not be a bad idea on this card.
Mark Hunt (+140) vs. Curtis Blaydes (-160); Total: 1.5 (-195/160)
Back-to-back heavyweight fights lead into the main event of UFC 221. It will be underdog Mark Hunt, who may be winding down at 43 years of age, against 26-year-old Curtis Blaydes. Hunt hasn’t been in the Octagon since June 10, when he knocked out Derrick Lewis in the fourth round. He has won three of his last four fights, though he did lose to Brock Lesnar before Lesnar popped a positive test. This is a fascinating fight for Hunt, who penned an op/ed piece about his personal health and the impacts that fighting has had. He was bulled from the main event of the Fight Night card back in November, but was cleared by UFC doctors to get back out there. This is that fight and he has had a lot of choice words for Dana White in the lead-up.
Meanwhile, Curtis Blaydes has simply been training after back-to-back wins over Aleksi Oleinik and Daniel Omielanczuk. Blaydes certainly has youth and athleticism on his side in this fight against Hunt, but he also has an extremely motivated opponent looking to make somebody pay for how UFC has been treating him lately. Blaydes has a huge size edge here and fewer distractions.
Pick: Curtis Blaydes
Mark Hunt has done a lot for MMA and for the heavyweight division. He remains competitive within the division and has done a good job to stay in excellent shape, but he’s facing a bigger, stronger fighter and with a lot more baggage than just a fight on his shoulders.
Luke Rockhold (-150) vs. Yoel Romero (+130); Total: 1.5 (-190/165)
Former UFC Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold seems to have a great chance to get the belt back here at UFC 221. Rockhold beat Chris Weidman at UFC 194 to grab the strap, but failed to defend it in his UFC 199 loss to Michael Bisping. Now he gets another crack because the title was vacated by Georges St-Pierre when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Rockhold and Yoel Romero have never crossed paths, but these are two extremely gifted fighters. In his UFC career, Rockhold has two loses, but also has six wins, all by stoppage.
Yoel Romero gets his second straight title shot after losing to Robert Whittaker in the main event at UFC 213. What a moment it would be for the 40-year-old to hold that championship and call it his own. Romero did beat Chris Weidman at UFC 205 to get that title shot, but fell short via unanimous decision. He is giving up some size and some quicks to Rockhold in this fight, but Romero has aged more gracefully than a lot of fighters.
Pick: Luke Rockhold
Rockhold should be able to take this fight down, even though Romero has had some impressive wins lately. Rockhold is the bigger fighter and should have the better gas tank if this thing does start to run a bit long. Romero has scored some third-round knockouts in recent fights, but Rockhold seems to be able to inflict more punishment early on. He should control the fight and grab the belt.
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